This is an opinion piece by Ram, a twenty year old student, soldier and story teller.
Your little girl is playing with her laptop and shouts, “Wow!” and “Oh!” You wonder what’s going on. Is it a cartoon? is it anime Why is she so excited?
As I, a twenty year old, write this in Singapore, there are an estimated 15,000 active Bitcoin nodes operating worldwide. These nodes store the Bitcoin database in part/in full.
With 15,000 computers all over the world storing the same database, repeatedly transmitting new transactions and new blocks to each other, it is virtually impossible for a player to walk through and change the record of what happened.
But when discussing the future of Bitcoin as a decentralized currency, Elon Musk had this to say:
I agree with Elon. But let me clarify.
Elon was referring to a validation node, which is pretty simple to set up.
- Mining nodes and validation nodes have different functions. (TLDR: Mining nodes consume electricity to create “blocks” of data, validation nodes check whether the information in those blocks is accurate. Currently, mining nodes are called miners, while validation nodes are ‘they simply call nodes). Both contribute to decentralization.
- Setting up a validation node won’t burn your house down due to high electricity consumption.
- It’s actually easy and requires no technical expertise.
- In fact, it only costs about 10 cents a day for electricity.
- At the moment, you need less than 7 GB of storage space to set up a pruned validation node (where you only have part of the Bitcoin transaction database, but still contribute to decentralization).
Unfortunately, the average person is not aware of the above.
However, Bitcoin remains the most decentralized cryptocurrency on the planet. 15,000 nodes in the context of a cryptocurrency is great, and the proof of Bitcoin’s decentralization was demonstrated during the block size wars.
But let’s frame the context differently. Currently, more than 5,000,000,000 people have access to the Internet. Suddenly 15,000 nodes seems small. Many more than 15,000 people probably have computers with 7GB to spare. Many may even have an old laptop sitting in the garage!
For Bitcoin to have wider and faster adoption moving forward, its decentralization must be continually highlighted. One way to do this is by encouraging regular people to run Bitcoin validation nodes.
We are not talking about this enough today.
Achieving this Via Node UI and UX improvements
Even on exchanges and payment apps, UI and UX are being pushed aside. When it comes to nodes, discussion of UI and UX is pretty much non-existent.
Remember: the biggest company in the world today got where it is by relentlessly focusing on UI and UX. The market capitalization of this company is currently about six times that of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin may not be a business, but the same principle applies. It comes down to making things more intuitive.
When it comes to setting up a validation node, it simplifies things. And simpler. And simpler. Installing Bitcoin Core should feel like installing a Chrome extension. Or a Google Play app. And all of a sudden, we’re going to have people realizing, “Hey, this node thing is really really simple!”
Let me clarify: setting up a validation node is already simple. But simplicity and perceived simplicity are different things. Today, perceived simplicity requires effortless.
Next, let’s talk about how running a validation node should feel.
Take websites from block explorer.
Technically, any of this information can be found in any full validation node. It is less intuitive and requires some technical knowledge. The average Joe will not acquire this knowledge.
So, improve UI and UX. Overlay the block explorer websites interface on top of the node program. Take it a step further. Let users see how many nodes they’re transmitting data to, how many blocks they’ve helped validate so far, any temporary chain splits. Simpler. More interactive. And yet effortlessly. I’m sure there will be many ideas for creating fun UI and UX based on blockchain.
And UI and UX are not only important for further decentralization. They can change the way people get into Bitcoin.
For illustration, here’s what I imagine the typical path of someone getting into Bitcoin:
He hears about cryptocurrencies as a way to make fiat → gets into altcoins → gets into Bitcoin → is interested in Bitcoin → goes down the rabbit hole → believes in Bitcoin → sets up a validation node.
This path is just one of many. But here’s my point: most of the time, setting up a node happens quite a bit late.
Here’s how an improved and intuitive Node UI and UX could change this path by:
He hears about cryptocurrencies as a way to make fiat → decides to install a Bitcoin validation node to get a taste of the crypto value proposition → learns by interacting with the blockchain → maybe even has fun → is interested in Bitcoin → believes in Bitcoin → tells more people to install a validator node → spreads the word; process loops.
A validation node is an open invitation of Bitcoin to new people, which requires zero risk. UI and UX improvements will market it as such. They will spread learning through interaction with the Bitcoin network. Education will come directly from the blockchain. Videos and articles, after all, can only do so much!
Here are a couple more UI and UX benefits:
- Attract non-technical people to Bitcoin. Yes, Bitcoin is the most decentralized cryptocurrency on the planet. But the people running validation nodes are still a limited pool, largely drawn from the tech and financial communities. We bring people from other communities as well. An immediate thought is that NFT designers move on to work on Bitcoin’s UI and UX.
- They reduce the risks inherent in block explorer centralized websites.
- This would introduce Bitcoin, the payment system. You can argue about Bitcoin the currency, but Bitcoin the payments system is incredibly difficult to refute, even through the lens of mainstream economics.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that further decentralization could also bring certain drawbacks. Typical problems of democracy. Decentralization among technocrats also has its advantages. But that’s another debate.
The bottom line is: we need to talk about this more! Much of the world still does not deeply understand Bitcoin. That the “Bitcoin is bad for the climate” argument has gained so much traction is painful proof. And even Bitcoiners, all at very different depths down the rabbit hole, can benefit from easier interactions with the blockchain.
So talk about it in your Telegrams, Discords and of course on Twitter. Is it feasible? Makes sense? Is it a waste of time? Is it actively being worked on?
Let’s go back to the story from the beginning of this piece:
Your little girl is playing with her laptop and shouts “Wow!” and “Oh!” You zoom in and see a new block being added to a chain of blocks that precede it, in real time. He sees one chain turn into two, until the top chain grows longer and the bottom chain fades into flames. Your girl claps.
Now, folks, that’s a vision worth pursuing.
This is a guest post by Ram. The opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.